The NSA placed spies in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft in a bid to tackle info-swapping terrorists, it has emerged.
According to the latest leaked document published by The Guardian, spooks were stationed in the virtual world of Azeroth and told to “hide in plain sight".
The NSA briefing note (PDF) was written in 2008 and is titled "Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments".
It warned that online games were a "target-rich communications network" which allow terrorists to meet and communicate securely. Some games effectively act as virtual private networks allowing dozens of terrorists to speak securely to each other, the NSA claimed.
At one point there were so many spooks playing Warcraft and other virtual reality games like Second Life, that the NSA had to set up a "de-confliction" team to make sure the teams didn't end up spying on each other.
“Al-Qaeda terrorist target selectors… have been found associated with XboxLive, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other GVEs [Games and Virtual Environments]," the document said. "Other targets include Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hezbollah and Hamas members.”
The NSA documents also suggest that GCHQ made a "vigorous effort" to produce exploitation modules in Xbox Live and World of Warcraft.
Blizzard, the makers of WoW, denied allowing spooks to penetrate their world.
"We are unaware of any surveillance taking place," a spokesman for Blizzard Entertainment said. "If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."
Microsoft and Second Life devs Linden Lab declined to comment on the claims. ®